Highland Swim Team Gets To “Know Their Neighbor”

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Highland Swim Team Gets To “Know Their Neighbor”

Members of the community gathered to learn more about how they could help those in need.

Members of the community gathered to learn more about how they could help those in need.

Maggie Lea

Members of the community gathered to learn more about how they could help those in need.

Maggie Lea

Maggie Lea

Members of the community gathered to learn more about how they could help those in need.

Kat Schilling, Editor-in-Chief

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Members of the Highland swim team gathered at Fairmont Park as kids swarmed the games the team had set up, eager to celebrate their place in the community.

The “Know Your Neighbor” picnic was created to bring members of the community together to celebrate their different cultures and raise awareness for the refugee community.

At Highland, we have a significant number of people who are a part of the refugee community with varying English levels, and the same goes for the families who came to tell their stories at the picnic.  Many refugees spoke of their success stories after coming to the United States, and much of the credit was given to the volunteers who helped with their transition.

As refugees spoke of their experiences, not only did they get emotional, but the volunteers who worked with them did.  Several volunteers shared that their work helped them to develop lifelong friends who they were, in some ways, sad to see go when they were no longer needed.  Even after volunteers were not necessary to assure the success of the refugees coming to Utah, many volunteers still stopped by just to catch up and say hello.

“We have a lot of programs for the refugees here, but none are more important than the volunteer program,” Gerald Brown, the state refugee coordinator, said.

Brown, as well as several other speakers, works for the mayor’s office on behalf of the refugees.  He and the others that joined Highland’s swim team at the picnic work with programs such as Know Your Neighbor to raise awareness for the broad community of refugees in Salt Lake City.

Although Utah gets its fair share of refugees, the picnic was also meant to acknowledge how lucky those that get placed here are.

“Less than half a percent of the refugees in the world get resettled,” Brown stated.  “Most of them are in refugee camps, where they stay for generations.”

The refugees who gathered at the picnic all recognized the fortune they had. Though there are many opportunities for refugees in this community, those working for the mayor’s office want to provide even more.  Fatima Dirie, the refugee community leader for the Salt Lake City mayor’s office, spoke about the help that volunteers provide and how important they are to those that come from other countries.

Dirie encouraged people to do anything they could to volunteer, whether it was agreeing to meet with a family or teach an English class.  Even high school students can provide help simply by becoming friends with the refugee students within their schools.

In only two years, the Know Your Neighbor program has recruited over 500 volunteers to help expand the awareness of the refugee community, but there is always more that can be done.  Anyone can volunteer and provide anything they can.  Those who work with the program encourage people to find ways to help with things that they love, because often, those passions can be shared.

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